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Good Sushi in Japantown? [San Francisco]

sillyputty999 Jul 6, 2013 01:20 PM

Can't wait to visit Japantown real soon! Which sushi restaurant in Japantown do you recommend - does not need to be trendy and touristy. Fresh and quality are more important.

  1. s
    superbigeater Jul 6, 2013 06:34 PM

    Fuku Sushi I think is the best one there

    1. CarrieWas218 Jul 6, 2013 09:53 PM

      Sushi Aka Tombo.

      1 Reply
      1. re: CarrieWas218
        sillyputty999 Jul 7, 2013 04:41 AM

        Thanks, I will try this place. Seems to have good reviews.

      2. d
        Dustin_E Jul 8, 2013 12:16 PM

        ino
        kiss

        16 Replies
        1. re: Dustin_E
          K K Jul 8, 2013 12:37 PM

          Kiss? I thought they were more of a kappo ryori style multi course place, with a nigiri course of very limited and small selections.

          I will say that after finally trying Akiko's recently, and then Ino on Saturday, Ino still has the best rice at the perfect temperature and seasoning (you can actually taste it whether the fish is ok or decent). He is very heavy handed in wasabi, which can detract from the experience.

          Ingredients wise, Akiko's is the best and 95% of what they have fish quality wise surpasses Ino, but the fish overpowers the rice by far which seems to be more on the underseasoned side. It still makes for an excellent experience, but there is not much balance. Presentation wise, Akiko wins in that department...Ino's nigiri molding, while is still pretty solid, but the cuts and visuals are many times less than appealing (because he knows he can get away with it).

          I also witnessed Ino lecture a Chinese American female customer at the bar, about eating sushi in one bite. He was actually not being rude when he said that (she bit a salmon nigiri in half) and he said something to the effect that it was difficult to cut the fish (perhaps smaller). Then again this is the same guy who towards the end of my meal when I requested monkfish liver, gave me these super thick butsugiri cuts that were bigger than what I got last time (not that I am complaining, insert "Ino loves me" jokes here) that just barely fit in my mouth in one bite. Then again Ino isn't Jiro where nigiri is made smaller for those with smaller mouths.

          Understanding the limitations of each sushi restaurant and chef will help maximize one's experience.

          1. re: K K
            d
            Dustin_E Jul 8, 2013 01:11 PM

            thanks for reporting back about Akiko's -- great to hear about your experience.

            kiss has both kappo-style menus and sushi-only menus. the kappo-style menu only includes 3-4 nigiri, but the sushi menu includes 10-15 nigiri or sashimi. usually these are served at the same time on the same plate. but i've also sat next to a couple who were regulars and they ordered a nigiri omakase, which was served one piece at a time, like at ino.

            i think the sushi at kiss is good, though the pieces are a bit too 'petite' for my tastes -- i prefer ino or akikos. so i haven't been back to kiss in a couple years.

            but if listing "best" places in japantown for sushi without restriction, i think kiss definitely should be included. it might suit other people's tastes better.

            1. re: Dustin_E
              p
              pauliface Jul 8, 2013 01:48 PM

              I agree with Dustin regarding Kiss (although for me Ino is #1 in Japantown).

              Kiss does serve multicourse meals. I've never seen or down omakase there.
              In the Kiss meal, there is usually one sashimi course and one sushi course. The bits are small, but the plates are simply perfect and wonderful. So, while Kiss is not strictly speaking a sushi restaurant, they serve the #2 sushi in japantown.

              (Note: I have never eaten at Akiko's and so can not compare).

            2. re: K K
              sillyputty999 Jul 8, 2013 08:27 PM

              Very informative. Thanks for sharing your experience at Akiko and Ino and Kiss. I have even studied up on the proper way of eating nigiri, so whenever I am out at a sushi restaurant, I try and follow the proper rules.

              1. re: sillyputty999
                K K Jul 8, 2013 11:20 PM

                What is crucially vital when going to these three establishments, is that you make a reservation in advance. Ino's popularity with the advent of the internet and yelp reviews, has skyrocketed despite polarizing reviews, and I've seem him and waitstaff turn drop-in's away. As I was a solo diner, I got away with making a counter seat reservation for Saturday dinner at Ino's about an hour before I was scheduled to eat, and just so happens I scored the last counter seat in a less than ideal spot, but that's how it is for being last minute.

                Ino is cheaper overall in comparison to Akiko's, and will still run you $80 to $120+ per person (no drinks) depending on how much you eat (and Ino's offerings can be quite appetizing even if inconsistency quality, and can be easy to over eat).

                Akiko's, while not in J-town, is very expensive, easily running you double if you get omakase, and if the chef picks from the imported daily specials (and if there are a lot of exotic fish, it adds up quickly). Akiko's will stock material that maybe only Sushi Ran in Sausalito will carry, possibly more super exotic variety than even Sakae in Burlingame. If you want to shave off $30+ off the bill at Akiko's, pass up on A5 seared Japanese beef with shaved truffles, and the Russian uni....but if you are curious and want to splurge on this decadence, don't skip them. The vibe at Akiko's is more fun and a tad swanky, and the chefs aren't Japanese or classically trained, but they've done very well with what they work with, and combine modern cooking techniques and apply to sushi preparation, kind of like a spin on traditional style nigiri, but the end result is not like Ginza style Michelin star sushi...but it is the best we have in SF proper.

                In a perfect world, we would have someone of Ino's caliber, a friendly temper free chef who's engaging, no waitress screwing up orders and suffering the chef's wrath, Ino's counter, Ino's green tea, Ino's hot moist towel for cleaning hands before meal (oshibori), Ino's rice, Akiko's fish, Akiko's presentation, cheaper than Ino prices, no hipsters trying to impress their dates and show off sushi knowledge, Kappa's hospitality when they greet you farewell as you leave (that's also a nice restaurant to go to, they don't have sushi there but the sashimi is decent), and free or validated parking.

                1. re: K K
                  p
                  pauliface Jul 9, 2013 06:59 AM

                  In a perfect world, from my house I'd be able to walk one block north to Kaikaya by the sea, one block south to Kitcho Arashiyama, one block east to Le Cinq, and one block west to Momofuku Ko.

                  But given this imperfect world, perhaps it's time for me to try Akiko's.

                  1. re: K K
                    d
                    Dustin_E Jul 9, 2013 11:08 AM

                    did you order omakase when you made the reservation for Akiko's, or after you sat down?

                    didn't realize Akiko's offered meals in the $200pp range.

                    what do you think of sushi ran? i haven't been in almost a decade.

                    at Ino, I can usually get a reservation for one person about an hour ahead, whatever night of the week (i actually think it might be most crowded on thursdays). but it is often crowded... and full of hipsters showing off sushi knowledge.

                    1. re: Dustin_E
                      K K Jul 9, 2013 11:54 AM

                      I believe you can do both, ask for omakase after you sit down at the counter, or call ahead and mention it with your reservation (which is what I did). Either way a reservation is highly recommended. The menu lists a "omakase" with price A.Q. and says budget about 2 hours. After you sit down they will also give you a menu of the daily specials of exotic and outrageously priced fish, but all supremely good quality. At least the cuts on average are similar to that of Sakae, bigger than Sebo's.

                      My best encounter with a hipster sitting two seats to my left at Ino last Saturday....he took his Korean/Korean American date there to eat, then he said something to her about how he googled the best sushi restaurant in SF, and found this place, but he incorrectly called the restaurant "Uni Sushi", to which his date corrected him "it's INO sushi". :-). Maybe that's why Ino's so cranky, dealing with know it all's and those who soak his sushi rice in soy sauce and more wasabi, and those taking mouse nibblets of his nigiri as if they're eating cheese.

                      1. re: K K
                        o
                        od_sf Jul 9, 2013 02:08 PM

                        "Maybe that's why Ino's so cranky, dealing with know it all's and those who soak his sushi rice in soy sauce and more wasabi, and those taking mouse nibblets of his nigiri as if they're eating cheese."

                        I'm sure that's part of it, but it still doesn't excuse the behavior.

                        1. re: od_sf
                          p
                          pauliface Jul 9, 2013 02:18 PM

                          He was cranky even before the hipsters found the place.

                          1. re: pauliface
                            d
                            Dustin_E Jul 9, 2013 02:35 PM

                            more hipsters started showing up ~3 years ago, and then a ton more started visiting once the jiro movie came out. he might have gotten more grumpy along the way, but otoh i'm sure the whole time i've been going (~6 yrs) there have been plenty of people doing the things K K mentions.

                            i'm not sure ino needs an excuse -- he has plenty of customers...

                            1. re: Dustin_E
                              CarrieWas218 Jul 9, 2013 02:37 PM

                              I remember posting on this site (under another name) my first experience with Ino 6+ years ago -- it was unpleasant then and remained so...

                              1. re: CarrieWas218
                                p
                                pauliface Jul 9, 2013 03:48 PM

                                His grumpiness has never bothered me. The food is too good for me to mind. And if he was nicer, it would be too crowded.

                                I remember how I never used to post on here about Ino, for fear that I would not be able to get in if people knew about it. Then when word got out and I found that a lot of people didn't like the place I was so relieved...

                    2. re: K K
                      d
                      Dustin_E Jul 9, 2013 11:51 AM

                      >> combine modern cooking techniques and apply to sushi
                      >> preparation, kind of like a spin on traditional style nigiri,
                      >> but the end result is not like Ginza style Michelin star
                      >> sushi

                      I was actually under the impression that some of the modern cooking techniques they applied to sushi was very much in vogue in tokyo. maybe this is only for lower-end sushi in tokyo, or maybe i'm mistaken?

                      that said, on my trips to tokyo, i've usually sought out the most traditional places i can find, so i don't really have much direct experience with this.

                      1. re: Dustin_E
                        K K Jul 9, 2013 12:04 PM

                        No idea, you are way more familiar with the Tokyo sushi scene than I am. It could be possible that places like Ryugin or Narizawa utilize modern kitchen technology for their purposes, for example, but I have no clue about the nigiri places.

                        Ricky was showing me a few of their high tech gadget kitchen toys during my visit, although I am not clear on how they are used. But have heard something about freeze dried shaved ankimo prepped by one of those toys, or maybe immersion circulator things for something else or a condiment. On their Facebook page, they did something with a Japanese whole octopus that looked like it was vacuum sealed, maybe approaching it from a non Jiro massage sort of way? I'm not saying this style is original in the whole world, but first time I've seen this approach in SF.

                        1. re: K K
                          d
                          Dustin_E Jul 9, 2013 02:25 PM

                          my experience is also limited, though iirc, sushiso masa in tokyo had some light sauces on the fish. i believe this is part of the "sushi sho" style. i believe sushi mitani (one of the 6-month wait places in tokyo?) also sauces their fish similar to akiko's. at least on my last (and only) visit to akiko's, i was thinking "oh, this is what it is like to have amazing fish/nigiri, and have the modern saucing still enhance the piece, rather than mask its imperfections."

              2. o
                od_sf Jul 8, 2013 04:11 PM

                Another vote for Aka Tombo. Sit at the bar, order the $30 nigiri omakase to start, then order off the "specials" white board. Ino is good (good rice, ankimo,ikura, uni, zuke-maguro) but the chef is always in a terrible mood, so your overall experience might be affected by this. I know it greatly affects my enjoyment of the place. I've never only ordered sushi at Kiss, so I won't comment.

                5 Replies
                1. re: od_sf
                  vincentlo Jul 25, 2013 12:39 AM

                  I've been to Ino multiple times, though not recently, since I can now just walk to Sakae. Ino's ankimo and ikura, if I remember correctly, are not just good; they are phenomenal. Perhaps only Sebo's can compare favorably.

                  1. re: vincentlo
                    Melanie Wong Jul 25, 2013 01:06 AM

                    I had Sebo's ankimo at an izakaya Sunday last month and it was fantastic. It's served very plain with just lemon and fresh grated wasabi. I asked Michael a bunch of questions about how he preps it, and now I can't remember any of it. It's been a while since I've had Ino's, but yes, I'd say they're comparable.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      K K Jul 25, 2013 10:01 AM

                      After eating at Akiko's then Ino's (not back to back) upwards of twice sometime after that, I'll offer some thoughts

                      - If we are talking about fish quality, Akiko's reigns supreme. Their rice is good, but the fish just overpowers everything else. Kitsho when Howard was at the helm, had this problem (Cupertino). I dare say a few other places in town have this issue as well

                      - Ino's, no matter if the fish is ok, great, or poor, somehow it all makes sense once you start eating the nigiri. The rice is phenomenal, great texture and the right amount of seasoning, not too vinegary or sweet. There is a Japanese guy in the kitchen who brings Ino's rice out, so maybe he cooks or prepares it. At times the rice is too warm, other times at body temperature. Somehow the rice (and the nigiri molding technique, even though many times it has turned out quite fugly to my eyes) just creates the right balance. Like last visit, Ino's aji had really aweful looking presentation, just a slab of fish over, no slits on the top to enable better chewing, no scallions or ginger on top, but it was a pretty fatty slice, and it worked great with the rice. Surely some attention to detail would have elevated it even more. There was a 2nd to last visit when I ordered ikura and it was saggy and almost fish bait quality, really aweful batch (to the point where I couldn't believe he served it, but this is not an establishment where you send back things...). Don't like his saba anymore but it tastes stellar if he grills it and puts it in a handroll with shiso.

                      Supposedly Ino gets really really busy on weekends, but on weeknights it is easier to get a seat. Don't go without a reservation, he can turn customers away without hesistation. His mood changes a lot more frequently, so you never know what you will get, but on the days he hits the mark, certain things are stellar...to the point where you eat, you close your eyes and clench your fists, but that's only happened to me with maybe 3 to 4 items in the most recent visit, but not the 2nd or 3rd to last ones.

                      In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Yoshikazu said that mastering the timing of sushi is difficult. For me it's mastering the timing of which Ino's offerings tastes its most delicious when the chef is least moody, is difficult. You also have to set the right expectations, understand the way the restaurant and the chef works (and his personality), and in some ways do the best you can. I'm not making excuses for the way he is...but it's definitely not for everyone.

                      1. re: K K
                        stravaigint Jul 25, 2013 10:41 AM

                        OT, but I'm sad that your recent pictorial of Akiko's made it onto y*lp but not here. It would rank right up there with J.L. and PeterCC's "crappy" photos.

                        1. re: stravaigint
                          K K Jul 25, 2013 11:25 AM

                          Maybe one of these days I'll go back again once my piggy bank is full (takes a while to refill), and I'll do a JL/PCC esque pictoral just for CH SF board...

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